A LOVE STORY
Every missionary story is a love story, because missionary work is all about love.
This is that kind of a love story.
My great-uncle, James Rowell Leavitt Wyatt was born in Wellsville, Utah on July 31, 1895. He didn't look like other babies; he had a large purple birthmark that covered the entire right side of his face. He wanted to serve in the military during World War I but was turned down because of the blindness in one eye caused by the birthmark. This was a disappointment to him. He wanted to serve a mission for the church instead, but his father disapproved. Uncle Jim accepted this double disappointment, but kept a life-long goal to serve a mission one day.
He married a kind and beautiful woman, Janette Bradshaw Bailey, and had a large family, and when that family was raised, they applied for the opportunity to serve a senior mission. With great joy they received the call to serve in the Tongan Mission. The Tongan Mission was made up of many small islands in the South Pacific. Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette were assigned to the island of Niue (nee-oo-ay), a very small land mass of 12 x 18 miles (about the size of Bear Lake on the Utah/Idaho border). The island of Niue is very isolated, many miles from any major island. Now it's an exotic, remote, travel destination, served by a weekly flight on Air New Zealand, but in those days, the early '60s, the only transportation on or off the island was by boat. The ship came once a month, and left again later the same day.
In addition to teaching the gospel, Aunt Janette taught the islanders to quilt, and to play the piano for their church meetings, and to use their native fruit to make something completely new and wonderful: banana bread! Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette loved the people of Niue, and the islanders loved them.
The boat had just come and gone the day before and there would be no getting on or off the island for another month. The heat of the island required a burial within 24 hours. Janette Bradshaw Bailey Wyatt was laid to rest just outside the island church the following day. Uncle Jim conducted a beautiful funeral service for her, preached a sermon, and dedicated her grave without the comfort of his children and relatives in his grief, but he had a greater comfort, for
The boat finally came, and Uncle Jim began the long journey home without his beloved wife. It was a Sunday, and as they put out to sea, some of the sailors asked him to conduct a church service for them, and so he continued his missionary work as he traveled. When Uncle Jim arrived home, his family and friends gathered around him and held a memorial service for Aunt Janette.
She remained buried on Niue for three years while the Church worked through the necessary red tape to bring her body back to the United States. The Latter-day Saint islanders made her grave a shrine. They built a little picket fence around it so the animals wouldn't disturb it. They brought fresh flowers to the grave often. They had loved and respected Aunt Janette and they grieved her passing.
After I wrote this post, one of those children who shooed away chickens and dogs from her grave wrote to me. His name is Joseph Pouha, and he was seven years old at the time. He added a wonderful perspective to the story which I am including here.
When the news hit the island that the Church hoped to exhume Aunt Janette's body, the nonmember islanders were aghast and opposed, for it was in violation of all cultural beliefs and practices to ever disturb a body, and even worse, to allow an outsider to do it.
The Church members had come through a period of terrible persecution, both physical and emotional, when this happened in the 1950s. Joseph's mother, Vetesenelia "Foli" Pouha, one of the original 26 converts, had been baptized by cover of night, and was abused and disowned when her family found out. Then she had been greatly persecuted again when she decided to marry a returned missionary and outsider from Tonga, Nafetalai "Feki" Pouha. You may have seen a Hollywood movie about Feki's mission on the island of Tonga: He was Elder John Groberg's companion in The Other Side of Heaven. If you haven't seen the movie, do it! (Or read Elder Groberg's book of the same name which is also wonderful and, of course, more accurate.) Feki spent his adult life gaining the love and trust of the Niueans through his work in the construction arm of the government, his service in the Church, and his kindness and aid to other people, especially ministers of other religions.
Things had smoothed over until Aunt Janette's death and possible exhuming riled everyone up again. There were heated conversations in meetings between the government, the other ministers and the LDS authorities. Often it was shouted that digging up a grave was the work of tevolo (the devil), and the question was asked, what islander would dare to do such a thing? The answer came from Feki Pouha. He would be willing to do it. And because of his stature among the people, because they knew his heart and his love, the act was no longer questioned and he was allowed to do it in peace, with no disturbance.
Brother Pouha spent a week in preparation, instructing the missionaries who would help him, and making sure that all possible protocol was followed, and all reverence was observed. A small white linen tent was erected around the grave in the mission home yard. Little Joseph stood close by the tent and heard his father pronounce a priesthood blessing on the body of Sister Wyatt. He gave charge to those present, "both on this side of the veil and legions of Aunty Wyatt's family on the other side of the veil to watch and take care that all would proceed with the will of God."
When her body arrived back in Utah, a formal funeral was finally held, and she was re-buried in the Wellsville Cemetery.
James and Janette Wyatt served their long-awaited mission with faith and love and gave the ultimate sacrifice for the spreading of the gospel to the islands of the Pacific. Feki and Foli Pouha have also served the Kingdom of God in many ways which are ever increasing. Foli became the Church's first accredited Polynesian genealogist and also helped translate the Book of Mormon into the Niuean language. Feki served missions to Tonga and Nieua, and together they served a mission to Hawaii. Brother and Sister Pouha eventually moved to Utah where Feki, who had been very ill, died two weeks later. When the government of Nieu heard of the passing of Brother Feki, they closed their offices for a week to honor the man that became their servant leader. Their children and grandchildren are continuing their legacy and have served missions throughout the world, including Puerto Rico, Uganda, and Colorado. (Those are just the ones I know of.)
My great thanks goes to Joseph Pouha for sharing "the rest of the story" with me. As he wrote in his e-mail, "There is a Niuean saying, 'Koe tagata, koe tagata motu, ka koe nakai koe motu tu taha,' which means in English, 'Every man is an island, but not an island to himself.' [Two beautiful islands] may seem far apart, separated by miles of water, but if someone could reach down deep and unplug the water, we will find that both islands [are] connected." So it is with all peoples of the world, in all times, all children of the same Father.
(Source: Carolyn J. Wyatt with Jane Wyatt Salisbury [daughter], unpublished manuscript; additional contributions made by granddaughter, Suzanne [see comments below], and personal correspondence with Joseph Archie Pouha)